The Extra Point: Could this finally be the year for men’s basketball?

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Junior wing Justin Pierce is one of the keys to the Tribe's 2018-19 season. COURTESY PHOTO / TRIBE ATHLETICS

Once again, we ask ourselves the question, hoping more than anything that we’ll finally like the answer: is this the year? We dare to be so bold to proclaim that this is, indeed, the year: the year the streak is broken, the year William and Mary gets to dance, to embrace the madness, to finally, after 79 years, earn that coveted spot in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Men’s Basketball Tournament.

I think of all the writers before me who have asked and answered this question, stretching all the way back to 1939. It is, in a way, a tradition to believe that you will finally be the one who gets it right, who’s lucky enough to write this article in the year the College will finally break out, the prognosticator of coming glory.

I am proud to continue that tradition.

While the Tribe faces an uphill battle, this year offers as good a chance as any to break through to the Big Dance. Enough stars have aligned to allow me to confidently say that the Tribe is poised to take down its Colonial Athletic Association rivals and finally escape the dubious list of original schools to never make the tournament.

This could finally, finally, finally be the year for the tribe.

I won’t hesitate to point out the elephant in the room: this is a very different team than last year’s. The Tribe reached the CAA semifinal on the strength of its shooting, notching nation-high percentages from the free-throw line and from beyond the arc. Connor Burchfield ’18 led the nation in three-point percentage, and David Cohn ’18 rounded out the national-level shooters. Both graduated in the spring. The team’s strategy will either need to involve finding substitutions for these transcendent talents or shifting to focus on existing talent.

Headlining the 2018-19 team is Nathan Knight, the towering junior forward and Mid-Major All-American. Knight shot 57.5 percent from the field last season, averaging 18.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game with dominant interior play and equally impressive skill from distance. Junior forward Justin Pierce, a capable wing, converted on over 50 percent from the floor while contributing 14.7 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. The team is in good hands with these two paving the way, but they’ll need to fill the leadership gap left behind by Cohn and Burchfield in addition to the lost points per game.

Head coach Tony Shaver has brought stability to the team, which has now made the CAA semifinal for two consecutive years. If he can turn his capable underclassmen, particularly sophomore guards Luke Loewe and Jihar Williams, into consistent contributors and run plays through Knight and Pierce, this could finally, finally, finally be the year the Tribe makes it to the big stage.